Scholarship initiative for science undergraduates

Materials World magazine
1 Nov 2007
Students studying STEM courses

One thousand pounds could be up for grabs for students that enrol on science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM)-related courses at Queen’s University Belfast, UK.

The university has launched a scholarship scheme that will make a one-off payment to all new undergraduates who receive straight As in their ‘A’ levels and enrol on degree programmes in 2008. The initiative is intended to attract more high quality graduates, amid concerns about the national decline in numbers enrolling on STEM courses.

‘The scholarship scheme seemed the next logical step,’ says Professor Peter Gregson, Vice-Chancellor at Queen’s. ‘We are operating in a knowledge-led economy and it is crucial that we produce graduates with the right blend of know-how, expertise and innovation.’

He explains that the scholarship forms part of a portfolio of activities to promote science in Northern Ireland’s schools. Staff at Queen’s visit primary schools to try to engage young children, while conferences are held to appeal to older pupils.

‘The consequence is we have maintained a strong interest in Northern Ireland,’ says Gregson. ‘This year, in maths, applications were up 32% compared to the national average of 10%, and in chemistry, applications were up 22% against a national average of 10%. But we can always do more and that’s what this scholarship is about.’

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) supports the initiative. In August, the CBI proposed that a ‘golden carrot’ bursary of £1,000 a year be given to science and engineering undergraduates as part of a five point plan to double the number of students taking these subjects.

Gregson rejects the notion that the cash incentive would attract students for purely financial gain. Instead it will ‘raise aspirations’, motivating high calibre students who otherwise might not have chosen a STEM course, or even attended university. He says, ‘To my mind, it’s a statement of the importance of these subjects. It is an incentive that shows our society believes that we need more quality students. We are putting our money where our mouth is.

‘There are things we can do to support schools and school teachers in the challenges they have.’